Le Anne Schreiber, the first woman to serve as sports editor of The New York Times and the onetime ESPN Ombudsman, died last week at the age of 73.
To most of us, she’s best known through her role at ESPN, which she served from 2007-09. At Deadspin, Meredith Shiner writes eloquently about her role there and her influence on journalism:
I’m not sure how to close out a memory of a personal hero. The years Schreiber served as ESPN ombudsman were formative for me, too. I was elected sports editor of my college newspaper at Duke in 2007 and found that as a young woman in sports, I had few role models. But Schreiber was my north star. She treated her job so seriously—reading thousands of viewer letters and complaints, watching hours of coverage, and questioning everyone and everything. She was a brilliant writer and an even more brilliant mind, and she leaves behind a body of work that will stand the test of time.
If ESPN and the New York Times truly want to honor her legacy, obituaries are not enough. They should restore the position of ombudsman. We need critical watchdogs now more than ever, and for these outlets to suggest that angry mobs on Twitter are a sufficient replacement for someone like Le Anne Schreiber is an insult to her and to the rest of us.
I know about Schreiber long before she took the job at ESPN, thanks to George Vecsey’s book, “A Year in the Sun.” I’ve written before how influential that book was to me as a young person choosing a career in sports media. It was Schreiber who brought Vecsey back to the sports department at The New York Times, as he writes:
The first female sports editor in the country, LeAnne was young, she was female, she had taught at Harvard, she had written about sports for Time Magazine, she had done a hundred other interesting things, but she had not come up through the ranks for daily sportswriting, and she was resented by many of the older people in the business.
She took me out to lunch at an Afghan restaurant, fixed her piercing eyes on me, and talked. I did not understand half the things she said, because LeAnne was one of the smartest, most complex people I have ever met.
One thing that filtered through was: “Why don’t you come back to sports and write long piles, as if they were plays or short stories? Just have fun writing.”
Have fun writing? Nobody had said that to me in a long, long time, so I went back to sports, with extremely mixed feelings, quite aware that I might be looking or a soft spot to land.
He also included this gem, which is just as relevant now as it was in the 1980s.
LeAnne Schreiber used to say about a male colleague, “Oh, he just has a strong case of testosteronitis.” Don’t we all.